Fans hoped Houston was turning her life around when she separated from husband Brown in 2006; Davis stepped in, acting as a surrogate father and helming her next comeback. She released I Look to You in 2009, but it failed to generate any major hit singles. A subsequent world tour generated poor reviews due to her deteriorating voice, leading to its early cancellation. However, she was trying once again to return to the spotlight; her final film, a remake of Sparkle, will be released this summer.
A generation of divas, from Mary J. Blige to Mariah Carey to Beyoncé, owe their careers to Houston. Her frequent appearances on MTV helped break down barriers for African-American artists, and her gospel-enriched style of singing resonates from the charts to American Idol and Glee. As years pass, let's hope that Whitney Houston will be remembered for her incredible voice, her feel-good songs, and her beauty rather than her troubled later life.
What follows is a playlist containing some of her best performances—some tracks are well-known, and others are “should have been” hits.
- “Saving All My Love for You” (1985): This jazz-kissed ballad heralds the arrival of an 80s diva. Just listen to her belt out the line “Cause tonight is the night, for feeling all right,” and you'll feel every ounce of passion the lyrics convey.
- “Someone for Me” (1985): Her enthusiastic, young-sounding vocals encapsulate the lyrics' universal theme: will the protagonist, a teenager, ever find Mr. Right?
- “Thinking about You” (1985): Sure, she can sing ballads, but can she groove? This danceable track, written by R&B singer/songwriter Kashif, lets her sound sexy and ready to hit the dance floor.
- “Love Will Save the Day” (1987): A guest appearance by vibraphone virtuoso Roy Ayers, along with interesting chord changes and Houston's powerful vocals, elevates the track into realms of sophistication.
- “For the Love of You” (1987): Her take on the Isley Brothers' slow jam showcases the subtlety of her voice, which she should have featured more frequently.
- “I'm Your Baby Tonight” (1990): Yes, most of the lyrics seem to consist of the word “baby.” Yet she proved she could ride New Jack Swing grooves as easily as any other style.
- “Lover for Life” (1990): Similar to “For the Love of You,” Houston reveals a tender, almost delicate side to her voice.
- “Miracle” (1990): This is a lovely ballad that she sings with conviction. Today, verses such as “I made a choice/ And today I pay/ My heart is full of pain” seem eerily prescient of her later troubles.
- “I'm Every Woman” (1992): Normally only a foolhardy singer would take on Chaka Khan. Yet Houston's rendition soars with her confidence and obvious love of the classic R&B tune.
- “Exhale (Shoop Shoop)” (1995) - Houston underplays her vocals to great effect, helped along by Babyface's typically smooth-as-glass production style.
- “I Believe in You and Me” (1996): Here Houston demonstrates how she can turn what could have been a run-of-the-mill ballad into a dramatic showcase for a talented singer.
- “Step by Step” (1996): Written by, of all people, Annie Lennox, this gospel workout feeds the soul and satisfies the spirit as well as the urge to dance.
- “It's Not Right But It's Okay” (1998): A funky, slightly off-kilter beat anchors her soulful voice; when she ad-libs toward the end, she sounds like she's having more fun than she has in ages.
- “Heartbreak Hotel” (1998): No, this is not her take on the Elvis Presley classic; rather, it's a tale of female empowerment, a 90s version of “I Will Survive,” with a little help from Kelly Price and Faith Evans.
- “My Love Is Your Love” (1998): This Wyclef Jean-penned track represented a departure from Houston's usual sound; instead, the reggae-tinged beat allows her to show some warmth and depth.